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“So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don’t know what work they are accomplishing within you?”
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Dearest monks and artists,
In the wake of so much grief over the unimaginable violence at Sandy Hook elementary school in the U.S. last week, I invite you to let sorrow have its place in you. I have no easy answers, and people who claim God’s will somehow at work in the violence are offering trite answers to a mystery that is greater than our understanding. Our response must be to stand witness to the terrible things done, to grieve and know the fullness of our own humanity, and to cherish those we love dearly and hold them close. We are reminded again and again that life is a fleeting gift. Sometimes it slips away in illness and sometimes stolen brutally. There are no words of solace. We must simply be with the great sadness of loss and know that these wounds and places of being broken open are where the grace enters. We must commit again to make this one life matter.
One simple act you can do in response to this heartbreaking thievery of human life is to let yourself feel the deep grief of it. Notice when you want to push it away, or numb yourself, or find a distraction. This capacity to sit with the pain and let it work its way through you is the first and fundamental response. The second response is an embrace of love as the deepest and truest thing, what makes life bearable under the most grievous of circumstances. Hold someone you love close, make amends with a loved one with whom you had a falling out. Extend yourself in this circle of love. These things matter deeply. Then comes the hard work of conversation and change of policy and ways to protect lives more vigorously. But this work must emerge from a place that has allowed the river of grief to flow through and the deep well of love to nourish and sustain. We must remember the extravagant source of life as we consider the reality of death.
One way to continue the journey toward personal transformation is to let this threshold time from one year to another be a time of reflection. What have been the gifts and challenges? Where was your heart broken and where were you giddy with delight? Where have you experience great loss and great love? If neither, what are you holding back from?
I invite you to let a word for 2013 choose you. I write more about this here. Share it with this amazing Abbey community spread out across the globe as a sign of hope that deepening and love are possible. When you share your word you are also entered into a random drawing on January 7th to win one of several fabulous prizes from friends of the Abbey. There is an abundance of gifts.
As a very special gift to all my newsletter subscribers I have a free gift for you – a 12-day online mini-retreat to help you listen for your word and make a commitment to deepen into it in the coming months. To receive your gift subscribe to the Abbey newsletter and you can either receive the materials in daily emails or download it all at once.
The art above was sent to me by Jane Swan after I shared my story of Mary and the pear here a couple of weeks ago. It was a contemplative collage Jane made three years ago titled “Our Lady of the Pears.” I am so heartened by this image and synchronicity (along with the image Yvonne Lucia sent to me last week), reminded of the ways the divine feminine is calling each of us to remember the fertile life force moving through the world, offered to us freely. I am reminded that it is in our opening to deep feeling that we access this fecundity for ourselves and become bearers of holy birth which the world so desperately needs. Welcome her in dear monks and all the juiciness she has to give. Let your tears be like blessings.
With great and growing love. . .
Art credit: “Our Lady of the Pears” © Jane Swan